The way we work has changed. The day where people are all in the same building is gone. At least for now. They are somewhere else for some or all of the time -working from home or on the road.
Leading at a distance can be a lonely job. You can feel isolated. You may be less effective and do not get the same satisfaction. You miss the face to face meetings. You may feel a certain lack of control. You may worry what your remote team members are doing.
Get over it.
The core elements of leadership remain the same. If you lead, your team will follow. Leading remotely just requires you to do things differently. Leaders need to connect with their employees in a deeper more meaningful way. Remember they may be struggling too.
Leadership depends of good communication
As a leader, you are reliant on others to get your work done to deliver on your organisations mission and goals. Leaders need to communicate better and more often than before. Practically all the key of elements of successful leadership are dependent on good communication - relationship building, developing a shared vision, leading change, setting and achieving goals and targets, influencing, coaching, collaboration, teamwork, project management, providing feedback – the list goes on and on.
Effective communication is challenging, even in normal times. It is not only about the scheduled one to one and team meetings. Much of the communication of office-based teams is informal. It happens organically – dropping in for a quick chat to a colleague, meeting over a cup of coffee or over lunch. None of this happens with remote working.
Communication in the virtual world
Leaders need to be clear on how they can communicate effectively in this new virtual world. They will have to work harder at it, spending more of their time and energy to keep their people engaged and motivated.
Effective communication should always start with the other person – people centred leadership. Empathy is of real value when communicating with your remote team. That awareness and ability to understand and appreciate the thoughts and feelings of your people. They may also be struggling to cope with the new changed dynamic. They can feel lonely and isolated. They too miss the interaction with their work colleagues. The therapy of the canteen is missing. The buzz of being part of a team may have dimmed. They may be trying to juggle work and mind young children.
The message leaders need to deliver has to be positive in this work environment. Otherwise engagement and productivity will suffer. Every person is different. The wise leader will adopt a leadership style that is best suits the personality of the particular person. For example, extraverts may struggle with the isolation. Others may be fine on their own. Different strokes for different folks.
Six Communication Tips for Remote Leaders
1. Connect at a deeper, more human level
Building and maintaining rapport is fundamental to all good relationships. When two people meet, you know instinctively when there is good rapport. You see it in the body language. It starts with a warm firm handshake and a nice welcoming smile – well it did pre Covid-19 and hopefully will again soon. There is a certain matching or alignment of each person’s posture. None of this is possible with remote working. It is difficult to read the nonverbal signs we are programmed to read face to face. Communication issues can result and trust can breakdown. Today, leaders need to connect on a deeper more human level with their remote people.
2. Develop your Coaching Skills
How do you connect with your remote team? A leader in today’s world needs to have good coaching skills – giving undivided attention, active listening, asking incisive questions, encouragement and providing feedback are essential tools in today’s remote leader’s toolbox. Showing that you value their opinion or contribution is empowering. Don’t forget to show appreciation when the opportunity presents itself. It may be as simple as giving your remote team member some flexibility in how they balance their work with family responsibilities.
3. Focus on the well-being of your employees
Successful leaders have a genuine concern for the wellbeing of their employees. We are wired to pick up subtle clues from each other in milliseconds. Leaders need to be conscious of creating that space where people feel comfortable sharing openly, not just about work, but on family, interests and small talk as well. Where people feel safe. There is a high correlation between psychological safety and work performance. The more people believe you care about them as human beings, the more they feel valued, the more likely they will open up and share their problems, worries and dreams. And the better they will perform.
4. Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability
You can never completely mask the uncertainty you feel. You shouldn’t even try. There is a certain strength in showing vulnerability particularly now in the Covid crises. Admitting you don’t know. Cultivating a tolerance for not knowing and not having all the answers can be paradoxically reassuring to your staff at this time. Lead with compassion creating a ‘we are all in this together’ mindset.
5. Continue to invest in the growth of your team
It is important that leaders continue to invest in the development of people. Successful leaders support their people in knowing and growing the things they are good at. Encourage innovation. Give people extra responsibility. They will thrive on it. For example, giving senior people a leadership role as a mentor to young people creates a win win. It is motivational for the senior person. It gives the new recruit the opportunity to learn and develop, working with experienced people. There is enormous growth in on line learning. This is an opportunity for leaders to encourage this self-directed learning.
6. Check in weekly with your team
A Regular check in with your remote people is important. People appreciate the standing weekly phone call. Even if it is only for 10 minutes. It provides reassurance, a sense of purpose and helps people feel they are valued and that they have an important role in protecting the business.